Monthly Archives: July 2013

The role of cloud computing in a telecommuter-oriented company


A company with a lot of telecommuter employees could never discount the importance of cloud computing capabilities to go with the IT and telecom infra in its enterprise. The cloud happens to be the main frontier of telecommuter work.

man and woman with cell phones

Businesses that thrive online more than offline are likely to be those that have a large number of telecommuter employees while having only a handful of staff to manage in a small conventionally run office. Such cases could be found in companies that offer products or services that have to do with web technologies, design or professional consultancy. Employees working for such companies are usually hired along a telecommuter work set-up where most of the work is accomplished online in locations of the employee’s choice.   Multiple tech infra Most telecommuter set-ups are staged in the homes of telecommuter professionals or in alternative venues where pros find it conducive to do work not within the confines of a company workstation. For a company to be capable of efficiently operating under such a premise, the necessary online tech infrastructures need to be established and maintained in the long-term like the following:

  • Online phone system with business VoIP extension networks. A high degree of real-time connectivity must be present and this could be achieved via a strong broadband connection running in the system that could support the powerful business VoIP features and functionalities. Companies would have to extend the VoIP to a telecommuter’s devices like smartphones, tablets or IP phones so that the connectivity remains constant and reliable at all times.
  • Cloud computing apps and telecom systems. Cloud services for telecom, licensed software as service, and cloud storage apps that could allow file sharing with coworkers in various other remote locations are also necessary so that work collaboration could be done online to negate travel or legwork. Correspondence and paperwork also becomes efficient minus the common hindrances of physical distance and location.
  • Mobile devices that are in sync with desktop devices. The data and information that telecommuters and their remote location coworkers share with each other could be transmitted and accessed via various modes like those done via smartphones, tablets, phablets or PCs. Telecommuters need to have their various devices in sync with each other regarding data and info to save on the time and trouble of cross-referencing these while in the process of collaborating with peers.

The main frontier You could only correspond efficiently with any telecommuter pro under your wing once all of them happen to be on the same telecom page as everybody else in the loop. Any collaborative work to be done together with any of your telecommuter employees could also only happen once you are all using the same cloud computing apps and services. Sharing files, for example, happens a lot easier when work collaborators agree beforehand about what cloud storage app that’s best for everyone to be using (e.g. Box, Dropbox, Google+, etc.) so that transmission and access becomes conveniently reliable for all. Work files could also be handled together online via suitable apps that allow coworkers to view, sample, and revise files in real-time. Smartphones, tablets, IP phones or PCs need to be in sync with coworkers’ devices in terms of the capability for videoconferencing or online meetings. Since all work is done online, the prospects of face-to-face discussions could be very minimal or nil. The closest that those collaborating on projects could get to such would be through video or call conferences via services or apps like Skype, RingCentral, or Google Hangouts and the like. Handling a telecommuter workforce becomes easier to manage once business owners become doubly keen on real-time, always on and readily accessible tech as the professional norm. The moment it becomes that, it soon becomes a way of life and nothing could be more convenient than such a business set-up.

What is “the Cloud”? And what is it not?

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Clouds on summer sky (Photo: fastjel)

The Cloud – One of the hottest buzzwords and most abused in describing products or services recently. In this article I would like to mix facts with personal experiences I made, in order to assist everyone, who would like to find out what the cloud is and does and the things that is does not do (hence the title). Cloud has been buzzing around for a while now but when I witnessed both my parents talking about “the cloud” and how they use it in private I understood that this technology has arrived in mainstream and it is here for good.

Cloud??

So what is the cloud in few words? The cloud, or cloud computing is a technology design to enable users working with solutions independent from device, location and network. Of course there are specialisations with a larger or smaller focus on one or two subjects but in general this is it.

Origin of the Term

There are many theories on the origin of the term, yet there is no proven story. Feel free to check some good options on the Wikipedia article for cloud computing. My theory is that it developed from the use of cloud clip-arts and stencils in technical drawings or presentations, created to visualise a network setup. I am sure that even before the term became a buzzword, most of you have seen presentations with little black boxes, switches and routers in and around a large cloud to set a virtual border between realms.

Is the Cloud something new?

I am afraid it is not. The ideas and designs for such concepts have already been around since the 1950s but like with many breakthroughs in the user world, it required certain cultural and technological thresholds to be reached before the adoption could take place on wide-scale.

What is the Cloud?

  • Agility – The cloud is agile and therefore allows users to upscale or downscale their service based on business demand. Further the actual hardware, used to host a virtual machine, can be re-purposed if necessary. This is however not a cloud-only benefit, please read further down on infrastructure virtualisation.
  • Availability – Services have the technological possibility of being available independent from devices, network and location. This is of course relative to the design of each service along with its purpose but technically this is no limitation. For instance you can use cloud video conferencing services to join any enterprise-grade video conference call from your smartphone, notebook, office workstation, tablet or even from a private computer at your home or maybe somewhere else. Of course your conference partner needs to have their own environment set up to accept connections from outside in general. Cloud technology is not a wall-breaker and cannot bypass security of an organisation, if they don’t allow such connections by policy.
  • Business Continuity – Cloud services are set up with redundancy and failover automation in place. So that even if single devices would fail, users would not notice and can proceed using the service. Such reliability would traditionally cost a lot of money when investing in owned or dedicated infrastructure black-boxes.
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Asus product presentation event of cloud-enabled tablet device with Windows 8 (Photo: Tecdencias)

What is the Cloud NOT?

  • Cloud = VirtualisationVirtualisation of infrastructure is a great way of deploying new solutions and upgrading your environment. But if you do this within your WAN this does not automatically mean you are using the “cloud”. You are just virtualising your infrastructure. Fair and square.
  • “No more hardware” – Well that’s a lie. Using software solutions or virtual infrastructure there will still always be servers and databases that require a physical body. Only the deployment and usage is changed but there will always be hardware. You might not own the hardware and you will most likely never see or touch it but it’s there, somewhere in a physical data centre.
  • Grid computing – No, grid computing is not the same as cloud computing in my opinion. Even though, it might be its scientific opposite. Where grid computing allows many computing units to work on a common target (e.g. movie rendering in render farms or Bitcoin mining), cloud computing allows a single user to utilise just any infrastructure in the pool offered by the cloud service provider to achieve their objective.
  • “Private Cloud” needs to be on-premises – No that’s not correct even though it seems to be a common assumption. A cloud service can be deployed dedicated for your organisation without anyone else having access to it, but the location of the physical hardware is irrelevant in order to provide that. In most cases the service provider will utilise hardware that is physically near to the user base in order to avoid performance issues that could occur on long “open internet” routes.

Challenges of Cloud Technology

  • Security – Any cloud service can be set up in secure manner if the solution and the environment of the clients allow it.
  • Privacy – Yes, privacy is a hot topic nowadays. But actually, it always were even in pre-internet age. Privacy is nothing impossible even in the cloud, even in the internet if you choose the right service provider. And if you are looking for good providers but affordability is a concern, make sure that your selected partner has a few good reference clients to show-case to you.
  • Compliance – When you are in phase 2 of the provider selection, bring in the techies of your organisation to make sure all offered functions and features are compliant to any active IT security policies that you need to consider.
  • Vendor Strategy – Cloud providers equal single vendor lock-in? Yes, it can be the case but if you want to avoid that, talk about this particular subject with your provider candidates. A few providers out there have established alliances and offer support to avoid any lock-ins.
  • Online works, offline it doesn’t – Depending on what your solution looks like make sure that your workforce  can use the solution when they are online and when they are offline. For instance when changing a file being on a flight, the data should update and synchronise itself in the cloud again when they are online. However there are some services which this does not apply to such as real-time communication (e.g. WebRTC, video conferencing, VoIP telephony, instant messaging).

Examples of Public Cloud Solutions

Summary

I hope this cleared some confusion around cloud terminology and technology. Further I hope it helped you through your process of picking a good service provider for your organisation if that was your objective. Further I would like to thank Simon Dudley of LifeSize and Phil Karcher of Forrester Research for hosting the webinar, which sparked the inspiration to write this article. LifeSize is often arranging interesting webinars and announces them on their social media platforms. Maybe I will see you on their next event – until then.

Have anything to add or feel I got the wrong picture? You are welcome to comment below and join the discussion. We at Telepresence24.com love your feedback!

What You Need To Know About Telecommuting

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Working on the train (Photo by rxb)

It was found in a recent study that around 20% of employees around the world spend a part of their work week doing their jobs from home.

Seven percent of these are those who work from home every day. Telecommuting, remote work or telework is an arrangement wherein the employees do not come in their office (or commute, hence the term) or to a central place of work.

Some work from at home while others work from coffee shops or other locations. This type of arrangement is becoming widely used among different companies all over the world although their views and standards of these countries are far from the same.

 Potential benefits of Telecommuting

For starters, it can actually save the company millions of dollars. It has a significant impact on a company’s overhead expenses, at the same time helps employees save money but cutting on a commute or gas costs.  Similarly, less commuters and less car users also reduce traffic congestion, road accidents and pollutants.

The flexibility of time has also helped many employees balance their life better between work and the home. Studies have shown that an employee’s productivity increases in a telecommuting arrangement. It was even found that around 75% of business or organization owners notice happier employees. This may be credited to the fact that some employees get more stressed as they are in their workplaces.

Telecommuting has also been found to possibly help keep 83% more talented women in the workplace instead of leaving in order to stay at home.

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Virtual Presence Handshake (Photo by ganderssen1)

Technology has made it easy for companies and their employees to stay in touch even when they do not physically see each other in the office.  For example, with a stable Internet connection, employees can still be part of conferences via some web conferencing software or phone systems. Many companies have also developed their products, like the RingCentral virtual PBX, to accommodate the growing number of companies that have telecommuters. Employees are also able to access the company’s network, and send e-mails and reports via the Internet.

But as many benefits as it has, telecommuting has also raised some drawbacks and concerns as well.

 What’s stopping them?

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns of employers is “losing control” over their employees who choose to work from at home. Experts say that telecommuting only works when employers hold their people responsible for the work they are doing from at home or outside the office.

At first, productivity rate was seen to drop, most probably because those concerned are still adjusting to the “new work regimen.” In the long term, however, surveys have found that the productivity of teleworkers will climb eventually.

Another concern is that in telework arrangements, employees need to work harder to maintain good relationships with their co-workers. Not seeing them every day may cause certain conflicts to arise and some telecommuters even feel a sense of disconnection from their office.

Security is also another issue that has been raised with regards telecommuting. It was found that many telecommuters do not use their company’s data backup system that may put a lot of sensitive information at risk. Information technology issues have also been raised as one of the main problems of working from a location outside the office.

Telecommuting, in some cases, may also negatively affect a person’s career. In a recent survey it was found that people who telework are less likely to get promoted because executives cannot promote people into leadership roles if they haven’t been consistently seen and monitored.

There indeed is a lot of improvement needed for those who allow telecommuting in their offices. But one thing is certain. By giving a lot of support to their employees, businesses will definitely benefit from their being more productive, happier and healthier, regardless of where they choose to work.


What do you think about those potential risks? Have you remediated them or banned telecommuting like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo? I am looking forward to hear you opinion around this.

How to become a Videoconferencing Expert

I will start this article by answering what exactly is an expert – to me it’s a person who is really really good at something. Simple as that. This post is only about my thoughts on what it takes for a person to become such, not how he uses his expertise.

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There is more to becoming an expert than this.

I agree with the assumption that all humans are born as “tabula rasa” (lat. blank state), meaning all their knowledge comes from learning, experience and perception, but with genetics playing significant role in the process. Unfortunately, not all people take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie ahead of them in becoming really good in something they love doing, often due to fear of failure. But failure is not something to be feared of, on the contrary, as Thomas Edison said:

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Every person can be good at anything, good in so many things at the same time. But becoming really good at anything isn’t just a walk in the park. It takes discipline, focus and more importantly a strong will to make it happen.

So how does one become expert at anything? Well, I believe the formula is pretty much the same for any skill you choose. Since this is a Unified Communications blog and it happens to be the field that I’m currently working in, I’m going to point out what I consider to be important in becoming a Videoconferencing Expert.

Videoconferencing Education

I believe education is the first step in becoming good at something. Once you identify your objective and set your goals, you have to start preparing for reaching that goal, show genuine interest in learning all the bits and pieces that are related to what you really want to do, in this case Video Conferencing. I’m talking about harvesting knowledge you can use from every source you can get your hands on: specialized courses , forums, blogs, whitepapers, industry reports, product guides…

When it comes to official training, major industry leaders like Cisco and Polycom are already offering specialized training programs for anyone interested in becoming engineering or sales expert in Videoconferencing / Unified Communications and these certifications are usually valid for 2-3 years in order to keep up with the latest trends in the industry.

Cisco recently added two new programs to their certification portfolio focusing on Video, which already included the Cisco TelePresence Solutions Specialist and Cisco Rich Media Communications Specialist:

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CCNA Logo by Cisco

  • CCNA Video establishes an individual’s ability to deploy video endpoints, set up new users, and operate networked voice and video solutions for job duties that include configuring voice and video single-screen endpoint devices, supporting telephony and video applications, and troubleshooting. The certification also validates a candidate’s knowledge of the architecture, components, functionalities and features of Cisco Unified Communications Manager solutions.
  • Cisco Video Network Specialist establishes and enhances key skills including the ability to configure video single-screen endpoints, set up new user accounts, support video applications and troubleshoot networked video solutions.
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Polycom Logo

Polycom is offering the Polycom Certified Videoconferencing Engineer – a program that confirms the successful candidate has the necessary knowledge to perform implementation, configuration and troubleshooting operations for small to medium-sized environments on the Polycom RealPresence Platform including. In addition, the PCVE exam will validate the individual’s knowledge of networking models, standards and protocols relevant to videoconferencing.

Plenty of free training material is also available on the Internet. Personally, I liked the old Tandberg Certified Expert Partner (TCPE) program, simple and straight to the point, it’s perfect to gain the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to Video Communication.

Forums such as the VTCtalk and the Cisco Support Community are a great place for promoting and  sharing knowledge and engage other experts in constructive conversations about topics of the Videoconferencing / Unified Communications industry. There are also great groups on videoconferencing business and technology available on LinkedIn for anyone to join and listen or contribute.

Working Experience

It has been said many times before – no amount of theoretical knowledge compares to a real world experience, no matter what field are you part of. If you’re just starting in the industry, try an entry-level position and work your way from the bottom up. There are also companies who first offer training to their personnel for couple of months, and then make hiring decision, this is another good way of getting practical work experience.

And once you get there, try to learn as much as possible, try to learn everything you can about the topic, focus on becoming better and better until you become “so good they can’t ignore you”.

The constant hunger for knowledge is what separates experts from…well, everyone else. The beauty when working with technology is that it changes constantly, there is always something new to digest. Personally, I don’t understand how some people are pretty content with doing the same thing day by day. There is much more you can do, if you want to. The internet is there, the books are written and there are heaps of people to talk to, who are more than happy to engage in discussions – so jump right into it and become an expert!

I am going to end this post with two quotes from people who were really good at something and accomplished a lot:

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

Enhance Your Virtual Conference With The Help Of Latest Technologies

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Web conferencing example (Photo credit: davidherrold)

Virtual conferencing is considered one of the most efficient and modern collaborative tool for businesses in the last decade. The technology behind virtual conferencing has been around since the early 2000s, but it has evolved a lot over the years. During the initial days, virtual conferencing was inefficient, lacking in quality, and required expensive items. Today, the quality of these conferencing services and programs has improved and the cost has also come down. It is not uncommon to see small and medium businesses also use web conferencing for their own benefit. If you use a virtual conferencing program, chances are that you are getting a pretty decent service. So now, what latest technological innovation can you use to enhance your virtual conferencing experience? Here is a look at some of them.

Mobile conferencing

Today’s mobile phones are no longer limited to talking and instant messaging- they have become powerful mini-computers and portable offices for those who travel a lot. Many web conferencing service providers offer apps for the iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry operating systems. These apps let you join a conference and take part in it through your mobile phone on the go. For employees who travel frequently, this kind of mobility can help them perform their jobs better and, in turn, improves the efficiency of your workforce.

Get good virtual conferencing equipment and check it appropriately

A great virtual conferencing program is only as good as the tools that are available, and fortunately you can find high quality equipment for conferencing at a very low price. If you are fixing the budget for your conferencing hardware, extend it a little because more than half of these meetings are started late because of technical issues. The vendor offering the conferencing service and the host can only do little when the tech hardware is limited. So, make sure that everyone uses decent headsets, webcams, systems, and other peripherals for the meeting before it begins.

Email integration

When you integrate the virtual conferencing solution with emails, you basically get a more organized meeting setup. Invites for online conferences have been traditionally difficult to send out because you have to track dial-in numbers, audio keys, and login information. Thankfully, some web conferencing programs can be set up so that email invitations are sent through email and participants can enter with a few clicks securely without worrying about changing passwords and numbers.

Video Conferencing

In addition to to the above you can add high quality video conferencing add-ins to your virtual conference or directly use services that provide both screen sharing and video conferencing in one solution. You can use a room, especially designed for video conferencing or just use a software solution with the aid of a webcam and headset.

Get file sharing and editing abilities

If you work with a team spread across various offices and locations, one of the best ways to enhance productivity is to get a virtual conferencing solution that has file sharing and group editing capabilities. With this kind of program, you can share presentations, documents, and other files with other participants for them to see. The group editing allows participants to not only view but also edit the shared files in real time. Other participants can review these changes and make their own revisions.
Basically, you get a virtual conference room where you can show files and work on them with your team, irrespective of where they are located at the moment.

How A Disaster Recovery Strategy Prepares For The Worst

Data Center

Data Center (Photo credit: bandarji)

Typically, a company includes a list of potential risks when drafting a disaster recovery plan. After identifying these risks, the next step is to assess the damage that could be associated with those risks. This is one of the more difficult portions of disaster recovery planning. This is simply because businesses cannot accurately assess the damage associated with particular risks. It is recommended that companies use a disaster recovery service, rather than attempt in-house recovery, for that very reason.

Why Disaster Recovery? Why Assess the Damage?

A lot of companies skip the step of assessing the potential damage for disaster recovery risks. Though it may seem grim, assessing what damage a risk can create is crucial to be prepared for an event. When a disaster recovery plan does not have protocols for handling a particular risk or threat, a business cannot recover effectively.

One Cause, Multiple Effects

Businesses should realize that all risks will have more than one effect. For example, if a building suffers from a fire there will be multiple effects associated with that fire. Therefore, each risk assessed should have its multiple effects listed in the disaster recovery plan. Then a protocol should be created for handling them. Using the fire example, consider the following:

Structural Damage

The building will ultimately have structural damage. In some instances, the entire building will be destroyed and all of the contents gone with it. The disaster recovery plan would need to devise a backup location to house the workforce. In addition, protocols need to address how to handle the hardware, furniture and other interior items that are damaged.

Disruption of Power

When a fire breaks out, power will be cut off. In this situation, the company’s servers and networks can lose essential power to function. Therefore, the disaster recovery plan should implement a protocol for backup power supply or a backup storage location.

Inability to Work

When there is no physical location to report to, where will employees go? Disaster recovery plans need to account for the employee factor. Employees should have a backup office location or work-from-home plan if disaster incapacitates the company’s physical location. Data centres are a good solution for this problem.

Telecommunications Failure

A disaster would most likely wipe out all telecommunications. The business cannot contact employees, clients or even vendors from its office location. Therefore, the plan should implement a procedure for how to handle the telecommunications failure, such as a backup location.

Data Systems Destroyed

Fires will destroy data systems quickly. The disaster recovery plan should have a backup data centre or storage location where critical system information will be stored. It should be able to be easily accessed for quick recovery.

When a business creates a thorough disaster recovery plan, the chances of it staying out of commission are relatively low. In order to create an accurate plan, the business needs to honestly assess its risks. It also must honestly assess the impact those risks will have on its ability to operate. From there, a plan on how to act when disaster strikes and how to counteract the effects of that disaster can be drafted. This plan will be the difference between being closed for a short time and being closed for good.

Innovative Technologies for Investor Relations

The utilisation of innovative technologies in Investor Relations gains more and more weight. The global finance crisis led to uncertainties across financial markets. The reactions on incoming news and information from Investor Relation departments impacted the market heavily.

Jan Johansson, President, CEO, SCA, Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, Investor Relations, Camera, Display, IP Video Streaming, Solution, Annual General Meeting, AGM,

Jan Johansson (President & CEO of SCA) during an annual general meeting (Photo: SCA)

That is why it is now an important task for the management of such companies and their Investor Relations departments to re-gain trust. The target is to enable a target-driven direct communication to investors, analysts and other stakeholders without giving a wrong impression or deliver data that would lead to wrong assumptions. For this communication to happen, more and more organisations utilise innovative technologies. Such technologies are also known as “Unified Communications” tools and aid Investor Relations significantly with the efficient communication with a usually large number of recipients. On top of that many investors and analysts are scattered across the globe and therefore subject to time zone related difficulties.

Important technologies within the Unified Communication tool-set utilised in Investor Relations are:

Video Conference Services

Video conferencing services allow organisations to rapidly and easily get in contact with one or many investors or analysts. This way of communicating is becoming more and more attractive as the prices for video conference system deployments have significantly going down recently – becoming a much more affordable solution. Beyond the normal functionality of communicating with audio and video dimensions, high-end video conferencing technologies also allow sharing screens or other digital content into the video conference, such as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or business plans in form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for instance. Now one is able to present such files live without sending the data per mail prior to a meeting., which cuts a lot of issues like “having an out-dated file” at hand during the conference. Video conferencing not only is a great way of delivering high quality communication, but also can save a lot of costs and increases productivity of teams. While Investor Relations officials would be required to take a plane to fly to an appointment, now the very same person can save time and costs by arranging a video conference and getting the message across to many even on the same day.

Live Video Streaming via IP

Another way of delivering information from important events is the live video stream via internet or intranet. Like this an organisation can easily broadcast from an annual general meeting (AGM) and deliver a video feed in HD not only to on-site audience but also to remote investors and analysts. The video stream could be watched from Notebook, PC, Mac, Tablet or even from Smartphones. With Digital Signage the event could be embedded into information displays that could be deployed in meeting rooms or public areas. The possibility of facilitating IP Video Streaming do not always require an own infrastructure and staff for events that happen only once per year. They can be also booked as a service and the streaming solution will be provided by specialists at scalable costs. If an organisation however runs events at a high frequency or requires video transmission for other reasons, they can invest in own infrastructure and managed services to look after their infrastructure. This would enable an organisation to flexibly utilise video streaming solutions and would save costs on long-term outlook.

Video-on-Demand Platforms

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Analyst focused on watching an annual general meeting (Photo: QSC AG)

A Video-on-Demand solution serves archiving purposes and enables the playback of any previously recorded videos, video conferences or events in case someone could not attend the live video stream. You could for example provide access to shareholders, who would usually not be able to see the live broadcast due to being in another time zone. This kind of solutions is also known as “Corporate YouTube” using the role of YouTube as “mother” of all Video-on-Demand platforms. Also for Video-on-Demand solutions organisations can choose between solutions managed and hosted for them or deploy them in their own infrastructure and have it supported by managed services to ensure a maximum availability to the users.

Summary

In summary we can see that innovative technologies such as Unified Communication tools are utilised in Investor Relations and being a great value-add to the communication and delivery of information towards stakeholders of internal and external nature. A business case is relatively quick assembled, since the technologies increase quality in communication and also steadily decrease costs that would normally be spent on travel and hotels. Also the technologies can greatly increase productivity of teams even if they are not in the same place.

Software MCU Comparison – What does the market offer?

A Videoconference Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) is a crucial part of every serious Videoconference infrastructure. It’s a system used to connect multiple media streams into a single Videoconference, therefore very often the MCU is referred to as a “bridge”.

The traditional MCU is a DSP (digital signal processing) based hardware whose primary functionality is to decode all incoming media streams, compose a single stream for each far-end participant and finally re-encode that stream before sending it out, needless to say all this requires a huge amount of processing power. More over, hardware-based MCUs define scalability on a per-port basis, which means if we want to have more participants connected in a Videoconference at the same time, we need MCUs with more video ports i.e. more DSPs and DSP hardware does not come cheap.

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LifeSize UVC Multipoint used on a Tablet

That is why a lot of companies are turning their attention towards a new type of product when it comes to multipoint Videconferences – the so-called “software MCU” or soft-MCU. A soft-MCU serves the same purpose as the hardware-based, except that all the transcoding and signal processing is done in the software which introduces big advantages in terms of cost, scalability and flexibility.

The soft-MCU eliminates the need for DSP hardware and can run on virtualized servers on private or public clouds, therefore it is significantly cheaper to deploy than the expensive hardware MCU. In terms of scalability, customers can often just purchase the number of ports they require at the time and then scale up or down easily as the need changes. Software MCUs offer also more flexible deployment, updates and feature enhancements are easy and more frequent, which gives them advantage in today’s fast evolving demands in the Videoconferencing world. Manufacturers can offer the soft-MCU for on-premise deployment on company’s internal servers (usually preferred by enterprises) but the lower end of the group video conferencing market will also benefit from the hosted services (cloud services) offered by providers.

Current market of Software MCU solutions

Although still in relatively early phase in terms of adoption, the market is all but short in offering soft-MCUs solutions for multipoint Videoconferencing. Some of them offered as pure software to be installed on industry-standard servers, some of them require some sort of hardware usually from the same provider which makes them a kind of  “hybrid” solution. I will just go briefly through some of the most talked about products out there at the moment:

 Avistar

Avistar offers the Avistar C3 Conference, a software-based MCU that runs on standard off-the-shelf hardware and operating system software, and on virtualized servers. It is mainly designed for on-premise deployment in enterprise environments, but service providers offering managed Videoconferencing services could also take advantage from it.

Each conference server can support up to 12 ports of simultaneous conferencing, video standards supported are H.263 and H.264 up to 1024 kbps call rate per endpoint with 30 fps.

 Polycom

The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition is a multi-protocol, integrated, software-based multipoint MCU running on x86 servers. Mainly designed for mid-sized enterprises or to expand an existing RealPresence Collaboration Server (RMX) environment, it provides open standards scalable video coding (SVC) support and interoperability with systems that use advanced video coding (AVC). It can support up to 40 H.263 or H.264 video ports with 720p and 30 fps.

 Vidyo

Vidyo solution consists of Vidyo Router at its center, offered also as a virtual edition (VE), which performs transcoding-free packet switching using their patented Adaptive Video Layering (AVL) technology which introduces low-latency video-streams for endpoints over any IP network. It can be deployed on industry standard servers and is “VMware Ready” certified. Interoperability with legacy systems requires the use of VidyoGateway. The VidyoRouter VE comes in two models – VE 100 and VE 25 offering 100 and 25 concurrent HD connections respectively, supporting native rate and resolution matching per endpoint, up to 1440p at 60fps. Vidyo technology is available through service providers such as Videoconference24.

 Pexip

Pexip is a new start-up that offers pure-software based MCU called Infinity, which will be available from September. It can be deployed on industry-standard servers in a VMware virtualized environment and port capacity can be easily scaled up by adding more servers. It will support H.263 and H.264, SVC, VP8 video codecs as well as interoperability with WebRTC and Lync. We are yet to see how this product will perform in the real-world but it definitely looks promising with of supporting wide range of software clients and endpoints.

Acano

Acano, Software, MCU, Soft-MCU, Tablet, BYOD, Notebook, Laptop, manage, videoconference, vc, video conference, telepresence

Acana Software MCU Example

Acano is also also a new player in the industry, offering software solution that unites “previously incompatible audio, video and web technologies” in “coSpaces” which are essentially cloud virtual meeting rooms. People can use whatever devices they have to call into a coSpace, including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, Microsoft Lync clients or video endpoints. Designed for the x86 architecture, it runs on their optimized hardware, standard servers, as well as in virtualized environments and can support thousands of users per server, with further scale and resilience provided by native clustering. Major video standards are supported including H.264 AVC, SVC, WebM / VP8, Microsoft RTVideo, and said to support H.265 as well.

 Vidtel

Vidtel is primarily a service provider; does not offer soft-MCU for on-premise enterprise deployment, but they do offer hosted cloud Videoconferencing solution, labeled MeetMe – it’s a cloud-based, “any-to-any” video conferencing service which supports interoperability between SIP, H.323, Google Talk, Skype, and WebRTC. It supports up to 20 video conferencing endpoints with 720p. The infrastructure for video conferencing is hosted on a Vidtel central cloud and each participant is given a private meeting room ID and a login PIN; they use this to join the Vidtel MeetMe meeting and start communicating and interacting almost as if they were in the same office.

 LifeSize

LifeSize UVC Multipoint is a software-MCU that can be installed on industry-standard servers. It supports H.263 and H.264, SVC video standards and interoperability with Lync (Microsoft RTVideo). Customers can purchase and scale one port at a time and administrators can selectively control the quality and capacity of each port, ranging from 360p for mobile users to 1080p for room-based environments (with the Enterprise edition) and maximum of 128 participants in a single conference.

 Cisco

Cisco became the undisputed king in Videoconferencing hardware, with the acquisition of Tandberg, but they do not offer software-MCU that can be deployed on-premise. They do however offer cloud Videoconferencing service called – Cisco WebEx Telepresence, which can support up to 12 participants per conference with 1080p. At the moment it’s only available in the U.S. and Canada.

 Blue Jeans Network

Blue Jeans – similar to Vidtel, Blue Jeans is a service provider offering hosted hosted video bridging with multi-vendor interoperability including Skype and Lync. Also they are the developers of their own solution and allow re-selling. It supports up to 25 participants per meeting with 720p at 30 fps  and offers easy web based management capabilities for administrators as well as reporting capabilities.

 Avaya / Radvision

Avaya / Radvision is offering the Elite 6000 Series – software-based hybrid multi-point control unit providing high port density up to 40 full 1080p HD ports (80 720p) on a single 1U system. All the major video standards are supported as well as interoperability with other vendors.

As we can see there are lots of different flavors and there are more solutions out there, opening new opportunities for those who could not own standalone MCU before. It’s hard to say what the future holds, certainly it’s too early to dismiss hardware-based MCUs in which companies have invested a lot of money. It’s clear that the two solutions will coexist for some time and it’s up to the customers to choose the best solution for their business based on their requirements in usage, cost and features.


Software MCU Example Video by Pexip

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA2oh-4A8Qg&w=575]

The Benefits Of Wide Area Networking Using Cisco Technology

Cisco Nexus Switches (5010 and 2248)

Cisco Nexus Switches (5010 and 2248) (Photo credit: pchow98)

Long before the internet became the phenomenon that it is today, Cisco was providing networking solutions, so efficiently that it has become the world leader in computer, IT and communications networking. In fact, the company has become a household name, recognised even by people who haven’t a clue what Cisco does. This is why, to those who are in the know, Cisco technologies are the perfect choice when planning Wide Area Networking (WAN) solutions for anyone from home users to corporations operating around the globe.

Cisco Offers Bespoke Solutions

One of the most appealing advantages of using Cisco Technologies for WAN is the company’s flexibility to tailor its networking products and solutions to customers’ specific needs, meaning no prospective customer is only offered the choice from a range of off-the-shelf options. This also offers the scope for growth and future updates without installing a complete new system.

Connecting Through Switching

Wide Area Networking using Cisco Technology is where the company comes into its own. While many other providers have moved into the smaller Local Area Network and Personal Area Network markets, Cisco have undoubtedly looked at the big picture for the future and provide a service that is used and trusted across the globe. From a base or local station, information sent to a remote geographical location must travel via one or more WAN links, connected through switches that are dedicated to sending the information. A computer in London, for instance, would communicate through a router to a WAN that then sends the data to a router in, say, Munich, Montreal or Mumbai. Three different technologies, cell switching packet switching and circuit switching, are used, each with its own advantages, disadvantages and optimum uses.

Benefit From Unbeatable Flexibility

At the heart of all of the company’s products and solutions is the Cisco Internetwork Operating System, or Cisco IOS. The IOS brings together diverse and different systems and devices to integrate varied protocols into a cohesive whole system. The integration of all components of the network increases security, as well as speed and quality of communication. With these solutions available, network designers can work more freely and flexibly, delivering solutions to their customers in a smooth process.

Modern Communication with Cisco TelePresence

Cisco TelePresence

Cisco TelePresence (Photo credit: dolanh)

Using high-end video conferencing technology Cisco was among the first organisations to produce TelePresence infrastructure and endpoints alike. With the Immersive TelePresence suites they have reached a milestone that was unparalleled until now allowing important meetings to be carried out with participants from around the world with the same effectiveness as if they were all in the same room.

Cisco Technology Is Future-Proof

One reason that Cisco technologies lead the world is that the company has never stood still. It has acknowledged advances in technologies in networking and connectivity, which means that the company is trusted by a wide pool of users. Consumers and network specialists look to Cisco for future developments. Cloud technology is the latest development to have captured the imagination, but it will not be the panacea it is predicted to be without the nuts and bolts of everyday use. Whatever comes out of the cloud in the future, integrating WAN with Cisco technologies gives its users optimum usage out of their broadband and network to do their own jobs with the maximum of efficiency, while Cisco runs the system unobtrusively under the bonnet.